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New York City
Photo: David Shankbone
New York City.
The Episcopal Church, Diocese
of New York.
The first home of Church of the Ascension was a small white
Greek Revival building on Canal Street, consecrated in 1829
and destroyed by fire 10 years later. Within a month, the vestry
selected the present site on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street for
a new church, to be designed by the noted architect Richard
Upjohn. The new Gothic Revival building was consecrated on November
5, 1841, the first church on Fifth Avenue. A
previous Mystery Worship report includes a photo of the
lovely interior with the great chancel mural of the Ascension
of Our Lord by the innovative 19th century artist John la Farge.
The church was remodeled between 1885 and 1889 under the direction
of Stanford White, the Gilded Age's most prominent architect.
The interior features stained glass clerestory windows as well
as immense stained glass windows lining each side of the nave.
A full description of all the windows can be found on the Ascension
website. The floor consists of black and white tiles with a
colorful motif along the edges. Choir stalls occupy the front
portion of the sanctuary, with the altar set farther back. Some
of the walls are peeling and a restoration campaign is ongoing.
Ascension is especially known for its excellent music, and although
there are a number of churches in the area that can claim professional,
concert-quality music, Ascension arguably stands out above the
rest. Dennis Keene, organist and choirmaster, also serves as
artistic director of Voices
of Ascension, whose concerts and recordings have received
critical acclaim. Ascension was the first church in New York
City to keep its doors open at all hours, and during the Great
Depression homeless men slept in the pews. Currently it is open
weekdays from noon to 1.00pm for prayer and meditation, and
at 6.00pm for eucharist; on Sundays the eucharist is celebrated
at 9.00 and 11.00am as well as 6.00pm. Since the 19th century,
Ascension has been involved in social concerns and ministries
to those in need. A food pantry, outreach to those with AIDS,
and tutoring program are among their present activities.
Ascension is located in the upper reaches of Greenwich Village,
a neighborhood made famous by many musicians, artists and writers.
This area is home to jazz clubs, cafes, restaurants and shops.
Union Square, the New School and New York University are close
The Revd Andrew W. Foster III, rector, was the preacher. The
Revd Mark W. Hummell, associate rector, celebrated, assisted
by the Revd Deacon Anne Auchincloss. Dennis Keene, D.M.A., organist
and choirmaster, presided over the music.
The date & time:
March 29, 2009, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
The Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Half to two-thirds full. A wide variety of people of different
ages and lifestyles attend the church, and it is gay-welcoming.
Did anyone welcome you
Yes. An usher greeted me, asked me where I would like to sit,
and led me there. He then handed me the service leaflet and
closed the pew door.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, lovely dark wood and comfortable. I especially liked the
kneelers, which are the separate heavy cushions instead of those
fold-out contraptions which can be annoying and noisy.
How would you describe the pre-service
When I arrived at 10.45, the organist was playing the prelude,
J.S. Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. This
completely stopped me in my tracks and I sort of stumbled into
the pew and plopped down, not very aware of my surroundings.
I'm sure the kind and patient usher thought I was mentally challenged.
Glorious playing but not really prayerful for me, more like
being at a concert, but it was mesmerizing. Unfortunately three
men were having a discussion during the prelude; although it
was in whispers, it was distracting and I found it hard to believe
that anyone could even think of talking. The whispering stopped
when the prelude was over, but began again during the bells
which began the service.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins."
What books did the congregation use during the
Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal 1982.
What musical instruments were played?
Photo: David Shankbone
Did anything distract you?
Well, I guess I've already gone on too much about those horrid whisperers. The church is very beautiful and I couldn't help but gaze at those stained glass windows. But I suppose that is what they are there for. Also, the air felt fresh, not at all stuffy, but it was a little on the chilly side.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Quietly traditional with bells and incense, but also contemporary.
Relaxed, prayerful, and I think the best that the Episcopal
Church has to offer. Ascension began as low church Protestant
Episcopal, but began to move toward Anglo-Catholic traditions
during the late 1970s.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Learned, relaxed, engaging. Father Foster recapped
and expanded on the scripture reading, but then it seemed to
be over before there was a real sermon – too short and I would
have liked more.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
To see Jesus we must go to the cross. The Greeks mentioned in
John 12:20 represented the learned, secular humanists of that
day, but they wouldn't be able to see Jesus until he was lifted
up on the cross.
Which part of the service was like being in
I truly hope heaven has such music, and that the angels sing
as well as this choir.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I guess those whisperers, and feeling a bit cold; also a little
disappointed in the sermon, because I felt this was a preacher
who definitely could have done a lot more with what he began.
It was otherwise a perfect service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I couldn't have been standing for more than 20 seconds when
a very sweet church member invited me to coffee and introduced
me to a lot of other friendly people.
How would you describe the after-service
Coffee and tea, served by a church member, in real cups, and very appetizing cookies, which looked like they were from a nice bakery.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I want more from sermons, but otherwise I am quite
impressed by this church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, very blessed and so glad that such a church exists.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'm not sure I can forget anything, but certainly not the music.
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